This post by Positive Discipline Trainer Casey O'Roarty is part of our Growing Character series on the value of practice and gratitude.
We have all the light we need, we just need to put it in practice.
— Albert Pike
I love the word “practice” because it defines action grounded in the here and now. Parenting practice encompasses the choices we make each day to be kinder, gentler and more patient with our children and ourselves. A practice is the act of doing what we say we will do, regularly.
Transformation happens in everyday practice.
The most challenging thing for me when parenting is keeping my own emotional triggers in check when I am confronted with conflict involving my kids. These experiences are quite difficult for me, because I feel as though my emotions are triggers instantaneously. Before I even realize I am acting from a place of emotion, the damage is happening, and I am the mother I so desperately do not want to be. I feel hot and tingly all over my body and, well, out of control.
Guess what follows these mommy meltdowns? Shame. Shame that I couldn’t hold it together. Shame that I am treating a person I love more than life itself in a way that makes them feel bad. Shame that I go to work to teach parents the principles of Positive Discipline and that I have failed to embody those principles yet again.
Shame is lame.
Shame is that inner voice telling us we are not good enough. Shame allows us to believe that we are not worthy. Brené Brown, in her book Daring Greatly, defines shame as “the fear that something we’ve done or failed to do, an ideal we have not lived up to, or a goal that we have not accomplished, makes us unworthy of connection.” Connection she defines as “the energy that is created between two people when they feel seen, heard and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment.”
We all have different shame triggers. My triggers revolve around parenting and whether or not I am walking my talk. But shame also creeps in when dinner isn’t as creative as it “could” be, when I get really behind on the laundry, when my husband does a whirlwind house clean-up (I mean, what is that? Instead of being gracious, I am irritated — a great way to cover up shame — that he can get it done). And then, of course, there is body image, but we aren’t going there ...
The great news is there are ways of combating this feeling of shame, and they all boil down to a handful of daily practices that counteract feelings of not being enough:
- Practice gratitude — Brené Brown says that “practicing gratitude is how we acknowledge that there is enough and that we are enough.” In those times of conflict with your children (or spouse, or coworker, or checker at the grocery store), use those feelings of being out of control as an opportunity to stop and list off two things you are grateful for in that moment. This pause takes your brain from that place of emotion (our midbrain) to a place of thought (our prefrontal cortex). Gratitude helps us to give up being ruled by our emotions.
- Practice centering — It is actually possible to train your brain to work better, to react differently. I set an alarm on my phone that goes off twice a day. It has a lovely harp ring and the words “Love is my center” appear on my screen. This alarm reminds me to take a few centering breaths that start at the core of my belly on the inhale, taking in all the goodness around me, and then spreading all of my own energy out into the world on my exhale. After a few of these, I allow my body to feel at peace; I let my face reflect that feeling of peace. The more I practice centering, the more I find myself able to call on this place of peace when my emotions try to hijack me.
- Practice forgiveness — We will continue to make loads of mistakes as parents. We should, because we need to model how to handle mistakes to our kids. Making mistakes, being emotional, and feeling regret are all part of the human experience. We must forgive ourselves. Perfection is unattainable, perfection is not real — but transformation is possible. Two steps forward and one step back is still taking us in the direction we want to head. Allowing shame to stop us in our path does not. A daily practice of forgiveness is essential for all of us who live and work with kids. And what a gift it is for them to see the adults in their life handle their mistakes and move on.
I hope you will incorporate some of these simple but powerful practices into your daily routine. We all have moments that challenge us with our children, we all can be swept away by feelings of shame and unworthiness. And we can all adopt practices that will help move us into a direction of peace and fulfillment.
About the Author
Casey O’Roarty is a Positive Discipline Trainer and owner of Joyful Courage, a company dedicated to training adults to create space for children to be their best selves. She is a former elementary school teacher with a master’s degree in education from the University of Washington. Casey has been sharing Positive Discipline with parents of the Skykomish Valley since 2007. She lives in Monroe, Washington, with her husband and two children, a 10-year-old daughter and 7-year-old son.